Chemicals in teething rings

I have heard some baby teething rings have been recalled? Are teething rings safe?

Question:

Teething rings are commonly used by infants to help soothe teething pain when primary teeth erupt. During December 1998, government safety regulators asked companies to stop using a cancer causing chemical in baby rattlers and teething toys. The chemical, diisononyl phthalate, is used as a softening agent. Most teething toys contain about 10 to 20 percent phthalate.

The concern is that children may ingest the chemical as it slowly leaches out of the toy. I believe this concern is justified. I agree with the Consumer Product Safety Commission when they advised parents to dispose of Gerber Products Inc. Clear and Soft line of pacifiers, nipples and teething toys. These products contain diisononyl phthalate. The following manufacturers have stopped or will stop using phthalate in teething toys by early 2000: Sassy, Hasbro, Tyco Preschool, Shelcore Toys, The First Years, Safety 1st, Playskool, Chicco, Little Tikes, Disney, Fisher-Price, Mattel and EvenFlo. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Germany and Belgium have already proposed a complete ban on soft toys that contain phthalates. Although the U.S. warning stopped short of complete prohibition, Sears, Walmart, K-mart, Toys R Us and Target vowed not to sell toys that contain phthalate.

Please note that the government warning is precautionary. I am not aware of any cases where children have been harmed by phthalate. Although high doses of diisononyl phthalate are toxic to the liver and kidneys and have caused cancer in laboratory mice and aquatic organisms, it is unclear if this chemical will make humans sick. Since there is uncertainty about the safety of phthalate, it is best to provide our children with products that do not contain this chemical.

What can parents do to relieve their infant's teething pain? Teething rings or similar objects made from resilient and easily cleaned latex or silicone work well to satisfy this need. Teething toys and pacifiers made of latex or silicone do not contain diisononyl phthalate. Consider discarding worn teething rings even if they are phthalate free because rough edges can abrade an infant's soft gum tissue. Baby Orajel and Baby Anbesol are non-prescription, local anesthetics that help soothe gum tissue. A frozen banana also offers temporary relief from teething pain.

References:

Langton et al., "Chronic toxicity and carcinogenic evaluation of diisononyl phthalate in rats" Fundamental and Applied Toxicology (1997) 36(1):79-89.

Harris et al., "The estrogenic activity of phthalate esters in vitro" Environmental Health Perspectives (1997) 105(8):802-811.

Staples et al., "Aquatic toxicity of eighteen phthalate esters" Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1997) 16(5):875-891.

Rhodes et al., "Chronic toxicity of 14 phthalate esters to Daphnia magna and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)" Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1995) 14(11):1967-1976.

Adams et al., "A summary of the acute toxicity of 14 phthalate esters to representative aquatic organisms" Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1995) 14(9):1569-1574.

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